A 3-2 victory that had all the clarity of simple numbers until the final few minutes. Liverpool’s first-class win over Pep Guardiola’s second string puts an end to Manchester City’s triple hopes and puts Jurgen Klopp’s side on track for an unprecedented quadruple.
You might argue it was mainly due to the No 1s, as it was Zack Steffen’s blunders cost City and Alisson’s saves that kept Liverpool ahead, but there was so much more to it. Klopp has already accomplished a great deal, leading Liverpool to their first FA Cup final in a decade.
Liverpool has also become only the 10th team to reach the finals of both domestic cups in the same season. They may become the first English team to reach the finals of all major championships in the same season.
They did something similar with Europe’s secondary prize in 2001 under the late Gerard Houllier, but this is a step up. This team may be a step above the rest — at least in everything but the league.
In the Champions League, Villarreal stands in their way, and City still stands in their way in the Premier League.
Although it’s unclear whether this outcome will impact, considering that this was clearly Guardiola’s second team, one potential issue is the rhythm and confidence that a very strong-looking Liverpool squad is gaining.
This could have a more significant impact than intangibles like “momentum.” The city still has a competitive advantage in the Premier League, and the Champions League remains their first priority.
We may yet witness that grand confrontation, but today was another wonderfully enjoyable event in what could be considered the most “disposable” of the three trophies remaining.
When the players on the field were pushing themselves to the limit in those tense last minutes, it didn’t feel disposable.
City came close to beating Liverpool, but their frantic late efforts raised doubts about the lackluster character of the showing before that.
It was one of those games where the goals defined and summarized the game. Despite numerous City players attempting to stop him, Ibrahima Konata simply rose above them all to slam another header into the net. It was his third start in a row. It also made Nathan Ake appear weak as if he couldn’t physically deal with Liverpool’s defender.
Until an unexpectedly frenetic conclusion, it felt like that between the teams. Fernandinho, who is starting to show his age as he approaches the end of his City career, spent much of the game scything through players. Even by his own standards, the Brazilian’s booking didn’t come until just before the hour mark. His challenge on Mane could have gotten him sent off on a different day or, at the very least, earned him a second yellow. When an equalizing chance presented itself in added time, Fernandinho fired the ball over.
If the captain was sluggish to reach for the ball occasionally, his goalie was much slower. This was the turning point for Liverpool, but it also symbolized how City suffered from playing a second-string team.
Ederson’s incident with Diogo Jota last Sunday may have served as a warning, but it’s hard to imagine the first-choice goalkeeper putting himself into the same mess as Steffen.
The USA international was powerless and hopeless as Mane tackled the ball into the net while drawing on a throwback from John Stones. The Senegalese tried it again later in the game, knowing that Steffen would never look the same again.
He was arguably also to blame for the third goal, and his reaction to the first goal raised some eyebrows.
It’s not necessary to focus just on the city’s shortcomings. This goal was more about Liverpool’s collective brilliance.
The move was fantastic, finishing in a beautiful tiny chip from Thiago, which Mane volleyed inside the near post first time. Steffen appeared to be leaden once more. Liverpool seemed to be unstoppable.
Thiago was in charge of the game. Luis Diaz was upping the ante, appearing like he was having a great time with so many opportunities for self-expression.
The city, on the other hand, did not implode. Because things could have gone a lot worse.
Even if he didn’t look fantastic, it was their most expensive player who kept it from looking genuinely horrible. Even though Jack Grealish was finally beginning a game like this, he might be concerned because this was clearly Guardiola’s second team.
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Despite a relatively bad showing, he managed to make it 3-1. It gave City a boost for a while, and it was in the interval after that, that Alisson shone, saving two times from compatriot Gabriel Jesus.
Bernardo eventually scored, but City had left far too much on the field in too many ways.
They clearly have more pressing worries. Liverpool is still chasing the most significant achievement in English football history.